Country Life, a Skunk, and Jaybird
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
By Wayne McCray -
Some people love where they live. I'm inclined to say it all depends. Few have the window view I do, that's for sure—having five large grey silos, lots of sky, and acres of farmland. I had been living in the boondocks since I became widowed and retired. I only see people when I go to town, run into the mail lady, or have packages delivered. I spend more time around stray animals, nature's largest and smallest creatures, and road kill. Death and boredom became normal. I don't have any neighbors, none close anyhow. They live miles away and I liked that.
Most folks don't handle isolation well. They fear it. I cope by having whiskey flavored meals, do a lot of hunting, and yard work. Plus, I have a parental daughter, lots of books, my music, and cable television. As I got my together, I debated what to have for breakfast. Finally, I grabbed a cup, Johnny Walker, and the coffee pot off the Dr stove. After my second microwaved cup, I went to open the window blinds to let the morning light enter. Initially I was blinded, but once my eyes adjusted they could see a large number of blackbirds feeding. They do that whenever that yellow crop duster had flown, spraying its fertilizer, forcing grasshoppers and crickets alike to find refuge on my property. The blackbirds rose and fell only when grain trucks sped up and down the gravel road.
Soon two blue bluejays appeared, landing on the deck's rail, hopping about. One was brighter than the other and they took turns flying up into the portico and by their frenzied activity I knew my wasp problem had returned. I just knocked them down last week, but it had been hot when they have the tendency to multiply and build nests in the sun screened places. Thankfully, nature was working in my favor. So there wasn't any need to put on heavy clothing and facial protection to redo what I had done.
High above that glowingly bright sun played peek-a-boo with passing clouds, casting shadows that stretched and moved across my unevenly growing front yard. That's when something obscure caught my attention. I couldn't make it out at first, believing it to be a raccoon? Maybe a mangy mutt? But once it circled a bit and passed through the shadows, it slowly came toward the house and vanished. I cursed at what I saw. “Ain't this a bitch," I blurted. "I got a damn skunk beneath the house.”
So I paused, thinking could I trap it with some bait then relocate it elsewhere. Such an idea however hinted reluctancy. Hesitancy replaced the fear of being stench showered. Poisoning wouldn't work either. It could die anywhere, someplace cool and familiar, and if it died beneath the house the chances of removing it was remote and its permanence would become most intolerable. A decaying buried skunk stinks just as bad as a live one.
"Fuck it," I finally resigned. My only hope was it was only passing through and we would never meet. I gave up the window view for the lounge chair and sat down to watch the local news when it told of unsolved burglaries happening throughout the surrounding counties and of those most affected. Now this got my attention but I wasn't overly concerned about it because of my whereabouts. After that, I began channel surfing and spent much of the day watching television until the shadows had changed direction. During that time my front yard became sugar coated, in a glistening powder of reddish-white, done so from all the corn haze drifting off those fast moving grain trucks that drove past.
Satisfied by what time it was, I rose up to put on some old work clothes to go do some yard work. Soon thereafter I began pruning lengthy tree branches, gathering those that fell, and placing and raking them into sizeable burn piles. I was moving at a brisk pace, spreading mulch around two remarkably resilient fruit trees, spraying a diesel-herbicide mix to ward off snakes and kill all unwanted weeds growing around the propane tank, the house, and air conditioner. Then I took a lengthy break by dropping down to one knee, flicking sweat off my forehead.
I took a moment to look at what I hadn't done, in letting a half an acre of land go unchecked for a year. Now it was a problem. It had grown into a tiny forest and its roots system could threaten my pump house and artesian well. Moreover, I thoroughly hated the city water and refused its utility because it sucked in taste and consistency. All I know I had better bulldoze and burn it soon or face the likelihood of replacing a well pump.
Just as I stood up when out bounds that striped rascal was jaw-clenching a long water moccasin. It paid me little attention as it scampered to the front of the house. Right then I had forgotten skunks loved snakes. Still I couldn't help but ponder if that was the same snake which slithered to safety a month ago. It had escaped being doused by diesel fuel and garden hoed into pieces only because my old legs couldn't run to and from the workshop fast enough. That being said, I didn't pity its death. However, I held a better opinion of my unwanted guest.
I looked up and realized I had about an hour or so left. So I hurried to my workshop, donned protective goggles and sombrero, adorned facially an oversize bandana, then started the lawnmower. I adjusted the cut height and speed settings so I could get it done fast, of having a manicured yard before dark. Now frazzled and dusty, I caught a serious charley-horse. The leg pain was so unbearable I jumped off the lawnmower, gimping around, trying to stretch it out to bring about relief. As soon as it subsided, I remounted so I could finish up, and raced back to the shop, because I was so ready to get indoors as fast as possible to bask in the cold air and get hydrated.
Following a hot shower, I dined on two deer cheeseburgers, sweet potato french fries, two aspirin, and dandelion beer. Stomach now full I stood at the window to marvel at what I had done and felt pleased in knowing it didn't look abandoned, that somebody lived here. Satisfied, I reclined into my lounge chair and there I fell asleep.
My bladder woke me up. While using the bathroom I heard the doorbell which was being rang repeatedly. Now who was this at my door, I thought, prompting an erratic and rushed emptying out. “Hold on Goddammit!" I hollered, "I’m a coming." A quick glance at the wall clock displayed its ungodly hour and wisdom suggested I should fist my handgun to kindly greet whomever it was. "Who is it?" I insisted, peering through parted curtains, leaving the room dark so I could see and not be seen. And there standing under the bright floodlights was of all things a plump, plain-looking, white girl. She constantly bounced to pull and adjust her pants despite them being supported by a decorative belt. In her shimmying, her best feature jostled. Just looking at her chest pricked my curiosity, but not enough to open the door. Instead, I talked from behind it.
I asked, “How can I help you young lady?”
“Sorry if I woke you,” she said apologetically. “My car has broken down up on the highway and I saw your house, so I came here to see if I could get some help." Now what she said made sense, but I had my doubts, finding it absurd that a white girl would walkover to my house in absolute darkness without having a cell phone.
“You don’t have a phone?”
“I do,” she punctuated. “But it’s dead.”
“I see. Okay, how about giving me the number?" I offered, "I’ll call who you want. Let them know you're fine and how to get here to get you. How about that?”
“But I don't know it by heart. It's in my phone." The floodlights soon went dark and I momentarily lost sight of her, but I heard her moving, walking from the door. Why would she do that? The then floodlights reactivated. “Say Mister, I need to use it," dancing in place. "I got to go real bad.”
There it was? “She’s the bait," I told myself, "And you know it.” The local news had reported on a string of unsolved house burglaries and how the elderly were being victimized. I feared this was that and flung the door open and drew on her. She became pallid instantly, stumbling backwards. “Don’t shoot me mister! I hadn't done anything to you. I just wanted some help. That’s all.” I wasn't having it and sought to know who else came with her.
“No one mister! No one! Just me!”
I pressed the gun firmly against her fat chest, to let her and her friends know that I wasn't playing. That I meant business. “Come on out. No harm, no foul," I spoke into the night. "Nobody gets hurt.”
Nothing but cicadas.
“I told you I’m all alone,” she squirmed. “Now let go of me."
"Stay still,” I warned her and did likewise, waiting for the floodlights go dark. Something wasn’t right, I felt it down to my marrow when pandemonium began. Silhouettes soon danced awkwardly in the night. “Damn that shit stank!” one barked. I rose quickly, which relit the floodlights, to fire within the outlines. Thunderclaps echoed.
The white girl crawled away frantically, squeezing her wide behind underneath my truck to avoid incoming gunfire. I threw myself through the backdoor onto my back as bullets ricocheted, peppering the house and truck. From my backside I shot back through the open door, hoping to catch one in a blind advance. When nobody came, I scrambled to my feet to get to my bedroom where I had a twelve-gauge shotgun hidden behind the door and grabbed it.
Into a blind corner I maneuvered just in case those sons-of-bitches favored thievery above common sense. My heart pounded hard, albeit anxious, but not so cavalier to exit my bedroom foxhole. So I sat there awhile. Suddenly, in the background, I heard a vehicle crank itself alive, disturbing the mood, before speeding off into fade.
I slowly stood up and walked toward my bedroom door ready to blow away anyone lurking about. Thus far, the coast was clear. I gradually proceeded outdoors and found two bodies laid out. So I hurried inside to call 9-1-1 to report a crime and did my best to describe what went down, but I became aggravated. Particularly when the dispatcher who I knew well constantly prodded. “PEARLEAN! " I said emphatically, "IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHETHER OR NOT I'M HURT OR IF ANYONE IS DEAD, BRING YOUR NARROW ASS OUT HERE AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF!”
Then I hung up.
Twenty minutes had past. Maybe it was an hour but I couldn't say. Living where I did put me on a kind of island. In a territory where only the county sheriff could respond. Soon a wave of sirens and flashing lights flooded the silent night and driveway. Door could be heard slamming, followed by a lot of disjointed chatter, and I suspect medical attention was likely being administered.
I knew for sure one of them was facedown, pleading, and bleeding all over my freshly cut lawn. I later learned he was shot in the shoulder and stomach. He was stabilized, put on a gurney, and taken to the nearest hospital, then airlifted to another hospital having urgent care. The other one departed this world. His body laid stretched out behind my carport, having shots to the sternum. As for the girl, she was later arrested for driving recklessly and found injured from being shot in the butt.
Two armed deputies entered my home taking their professional duties seriously. My arms already lifted and weapons beyond reach. However, I couldn’t help but instigate. “It's about fucking time you got here," I smartly said. "It took you long enough." Sheriff Pennybaker soon followed behind them. He looked around, removed his cowboy hat, then held it in hand. I noticed a more youthful look from him, revealing a thick silver crew cut and hardened face. The deputies did what they were told and holstered their guns and returned outside while the sheriff decidedly pulled back a chair to plop down. "Hello Jaybird," he greeted. "Say, if you don't mind, let me have a cup of that coffee you like so much. Easy on the whiskey, I’m working.”
I did what he told and poured him a partial cup. “You can put it back on," talking about his hat. "I don’t mind. This place ain't sacred.”
“I'm good. Should I call for one of those medics? Have one of them come take a look at you?”
“No sir, but thanks for asking. Nothing I can't patch," then I placed the cup before him. "Here you go.”
My weapons were in his hand, being examined. He commended my choices and caretaking. Soon a deputy returned, bent over, and whispered something. The news given made those salt and pepper eyebrows bounce rapidly and he looked at his deputy in disbelief before telling him to take the guns and waving him back out. Now whatever he told him changed his overall mood so much so he darkened pink and made those blue eyes of his rolled back into his skull. He began running his hand through his hair, likely searching for the right words to rephrase what was told to him.
“Bad news Jaybird, you shot a bunch of white folk."
"How should I say this? Them boys out there, we originally thought they were black, but after a closer look they're not. The foul smell fooled us. Plus they had painted their faces black for disguises. Nobody out there knows them. They do know they don't live around here. Still though, lots of folks won't be happy about this. Some might take offense to what you did.”
“That's fine.” I reminded him. “Let them come."
Sheriff Pennybaker frowned, "I figured you'd say that," then took his last gulp and stood up. "You ready?”
“For what?” I replied, still seated. “Where am I going?”
“Jaybird, come on now? You shot some white boys, so of course you’re coming with me. Anyhow, this place is a crime scene and I rather take the rest of your statement down at the police station while this place gets a good looking over before it's secured. So get up!” I responded, displeased, but glad I went unhandcuffed. We left out going beyond the flashing lights and first responders right into a parked black suburban.
“I’m the victim here," I reiterated, falling into the backseat. "Just to let you know, I shouldn’t go to jail for defending my property and myself. There’re laws for that kind of shit. Even for me. I have rights."
“Maybe?" Slamming shut the door. "My advice: Don't fret it," he told me, getting behind his steering wheel. "You've been here before. So you know how it works? Although we're friendly I still have a job to do. Anyhow, thanks for the coffee just in case I don't get a chance. Also, is it okay if I can I have some? It had nice flavor and kick too."
"Sure," I replied. "Second cabinet, top shelf, in a bright yellow bag."
"You must’ve changed brands?"
“I did,” I replied. “More proof and stronger coffee.”
Sheriff Pennybaker laughed. Halfway down the gravel road I looked back. “Don't worry Jaybird," he replied, reading my mind. "Your home and property will be fine. I'll make sure of it. Hey, by the way, you do know there's a polecat somewhere on your property? People could barely walk around there without holding their breath. I'm surprised you hadn't gotten rid of it."
Laughter followed. “Didn't know I had one until today, but I did think about it," I replied. "Lord knows, but I'm glad I hadn't. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting in this backseat right now talking with you.”
“Jaybird, what’re you saying?" looking at my dark face in the rearview mirror. "Now I know you're not saying a skunk saved your black ass?”
“I am. It did just that.”
Wayne McCray was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1965, and grew up in Chicago until 1984. He attended Southern University A and M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He currently lives in Itta Bena, Mississippi, enjoying country life. His writings have appeared in Afro Literary Magazine, The Bookends Review, The Ocotillo Review, Ogma Magazine, and Wingless Dreamer. You can find him on Twitter @WritingAbsurdly.